For centuries, Europeans called what are now known as North and South America the “New World.” Europeans realized that there were more landmasses on the planet than the old world continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa when captains began to bring home news and details of their cross-Atlantic journeys between the 1400s and the 1700s.
As successive voyages contributed to knowledge of these lands, the map began to show the uncharted sections as “Terra Incognita”, unknown lands. The “New World” existed, but its size and details could only be learned from the tales of a small group of mariners sent to gather information. “New”, “incognita/unknown”, and “unclaimed” seemed to take on similar meanings.
The kind of thinking that labelled the Americas the “New World” reveals many things. It must have been a very exciting prospect as sailors and kings alike considered the possibilities of land, animals, resources, and trade routes that might be open to them. It did not occur to most Europeans taking part in this kind of exploration that this was not a “new world” to the civilizations inhabiting the two continents and nearby islands since their own exploratory journeys across the ocean and the Bering Land Bridge from Asia 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.